What AD Lessons Can Publishers Learn from a Lightning-Hot Political Campaign?
Audience developers, especially in publishing, often look to each other to for inspiration and opportunities for imitation. We look to The New York Times and their success in growing digital subscribers or admire Netflix’s tremendous audience growth. But I’ve recently become enamored with an entirely different audience development opportunity -- politics.
Yes, that pool has been slightly tainted since we’ve all come to the realization that Cambridge Analytica used data to try and destroy our democracy, but still, hear me out.
Deep in the heart of Texas, Beto O’Rourke is running a campaign for a seat in the US Senate that is based entirely on individual donors to finance his campaign -- not unlike Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries -- and it seems to be working. Well, relying 100% on your supporters to finance your campaign requires one hell of an audience development strategy, wouldn’t you agree?
Beto is focusing heavily on social media for his-top-of funnel strategy, using platforms like Facebook and Instagram to document even the most mundane campaign activities including, live videos of road trip gas stops, campaigning door-to-door, and even his morning jogs. The result has been hundreds of thousands of followers, hundreds of shares for almost every video he posts, and spin-off groups in dozens of cities throughout the state.
Assuming you are already producing quality content that your audience wants to read, much like the strong message that Beto is bringing to communities across Texas, what can audience developers learn from watching the Beto campaign? A lot.
1. Create and distribute content regularly. As I mentioned above, Beto is pushing out content on social media multiple times a day, reaching voters in a very approachable fashion. And there’s something almost endearing about his lack of overuse of hashtags on Instagram, making it feel all the more that you’re following the adventures of an old friend, not a marketer. Although social media is certainly a dwindling source of traffic for most publishers, it’s by no means irrelevant. Social media should sit firmly in the top of your funnel as a big opportunity for exposing your brand and your content to new and existing audiences.
2. Create a personal connection with your audience. Of course this is important for a politician. Campaigns are often made and broken by the likeability of a candidate. But publishers and brands should consider the personal connection they are making with their audiences. Let audiences see behind the scenes of your organization, tap into user generated content, and showcase leadership in an approachable fashion. One publisher doing this oh so well is The Skimm. Watch how TheSkimm creates a personality for their brand through their Instagram presence, relating to their target audience with posts about loving ice cream and memes about what to do with your tax return. Okay, back to politics…
3. Make it easy to engage. Publishers often struggle with subscriptions and email collection because they aren’t making it easy for the consumer! I think it’s safe to say that your consumer is very rarely visiting your website to try and find a way to give you their email address or give you money. You have to ask. Make it clear what you want the consumer to do by putting those call-to-actions front and center. When you arrive on Beto’s website, there are six different ways to further engage with the campaign all above the fold. A few simple ones include, where to follow the campaign on various social channels, donate, and give your email address.
4. Create a frictionless process for supporting your brand and content. This is where publishers really need to listen up. The experience of purchasing and supporting your brand has to be seamless. Consumers abandon their carts at an average rate of 77%. Over 75% of the time that you finally get a consumer to your checkout page, they leave without completing the purchase. See why your marketers are always so stressed out?
The Beto campaign creates a frictionless experience with simple donation pages, several options for payment options, including PayPal (if you’re anything like me, how many times have abandoned a purchase because your wallet was… well, somewhere else? Too many to count). Campaign donations are often an impulse decision, much like ecommerce and subscription transactions. If you give your consumer even the slightest excuse to not complete the purchase, your abandon rates will suffer.
The Beto campaign’s mobile website automatically detects the device and prompts the consumer to donate the easiest way possible, which in my case, was Apple Pay. A quick thumb print and confirmation and my donation was on its way.
Publishers should employ seamless checkout processes into their subscription pages and tap into third parties like Paypal, Venmo or Apple Pay to make it as easy as possible for the consumer.
And when the consumer returns to the site, the Beto website remembers who they are and strips away the extra fields, making it easy for you to donate again.
Of course, if I got distracted (which I usually do), the Beto campaign reminds me via email to come back and finish the transaction.
Certainly none of this is a novel concept. Distribute content, engage your audience, ask for the purchase, and make the process easy peasy. It’s audience development 101, but so often publishers fall short in any one of these areas. Sometimes it’s technology limitations, sometimes it’s competing priorities. But publishers take note… there isn’t much of a difference between publishing and a political movement.
Related story: Can Publishers Monetize Their Digital Technology Expertise?
Melissa Chowning is the CEO of Twenty-First Digital, where she guides her clients’ digital strategies and audience development efforts to drive traffic, engagement, and retention. Formerly the Audience Development Director of D Magazine, Portland Monthly and Seattle Met, Melissa understands that the key to audience growth is also monetization. When she’s not immersed in the digital world, you’ll likely find her reading, listening to podcasts, and keeping busy with her two children, both under the age of 6.